U.S. vows to review trade cooperation with Nicaragua if elections unfair

FILE PHOTO: Police officers keep watch outside the Nicaragua Attorney General of the Republic office where Felix Maradiaga, aspiring candidate of the opposition group National Blue and White Unity (UNAB), was summoned by authorities, in Managua, Nicaragua June 8, 2021. REUTERS/Carlos Herrera/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States is prepared to review "trade-related activities" with Nicaragua, including Managua's participation in a Central America free trade agreement, if the country's coming elections are not free and fair, a senior State Department official said on Thursday.

Julie Chung, acting assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs, said Washington does not currently see conditions for democratic elections under "a wave of repression" by leftist President Daniel Ortega, and urged the Organization of American States to address the issue immediately.

"Ultimately, if Ortega continues on this path, he will further cement his status as an international pariah," Chung told reporters on a conference call.

She spoke a day after the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden imposed sanctions on Ortega's daughter and three of his allies. That followed the arrests of several opposition figures, including potential challengers to Ortega in November elections as he vies to keep the office he has held since 2007.

Asked whether the U.S. government was considering suspending Nicaragua from the CAFTA-DR regional trade agreement that gives preferential treatment to exports to the United States, Chung said: "We know that this is something that really improved the lives of the people of Nicaragua."

But she said that given the deterioration of democratic practices in Nicaragua, the United States was already trying to make sure U.S. trade cooperation was not directly benefiting the Nicaraguan government.

"If the November elections are not free and fair, we would continue to review the Nicaraguan government's participation in these trade-related activities," she added.

Repeating a U.S. call for the immediate release of jailed Nicaraguan opposition and civil society leaders, Chung said the U.S. government does not currently see the conditions for democratic elections.

"If there's actually conditions that change and there are free and fair elections, then yes, we would honor the results of that, but as of today, we don't see that," she said.

Chung declined to say whether further U.S. sanctions could be expected when asked specifically whether measures were under consideration against Ortega himself.

But she said: "The U.S. will continue to use a wide range of diplomatic and economic tools."

(Reporting by Matt Spetalnick and Daphne Psaledakis; Editing by Leslie Adler and Daniel Wallis)

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